“Negativity may knock at your door but that doesn’t mean you have to let it in.” – Achieve Goals
My brother calls me an ostrich. He says I avoid topics that make me uncomfortable, implying I prefer to stick my head in the sand than confront unpleasant issues. While I find that description somewhat offensive, it is not altogether untrue. But I make no apologies for it whatsoever. It is a method of self-preservation.
I know my brother means well. I know it is not his intention to insult me. We just happen to come from opposite ends of the gene pool.
I am an empath. I absorb and take on the emotions of others, whether I know them personally or not. While this is often an ideal character trait to be an effective healthcare professional, it can be exhausting over time. It is common for me to be moved to tears while watching the news or just hearing someone’s story. So, I have learned to filter what I allow to get through to me.
That does not mean I am uninformed. This ostrich is the same person my brother also frequently refers to as the Social Justice Warrior, because when I believe in a cause, I do so wholeheartedly. But I pick and choose when and where I get my information.
I work with the public. This means I spend my entire day talking about current events, often on a repetitive loop as the conversation is brand new to each patient coming through the clinic doors. So, I have a routine. Once a week, I sit down and watch a news recap of the past 7 days. I follow up on the stories that catch my attention by looking up more about them if I feel it necessary. But therein lies the hard stop.
As a card-carrying member of the Anxiety Club and pretty much all its affiliates, regular exposure to the news makes it harder for me to function as a normal human. The stories climb inside me and become part of my DNA; the reel playing a continuing loop of disturbing images that eventually morph into nightmares of consequences that have not yet come to fruition. And the more direct contact I have with actual coverage, the worse my visceral reaction.
Let me be clear: there are plenty of things happening around the world these days that absolutely should inspire visceral reactions. So much of what is going on today is utterly incomprehensible. But just because I choose not to expose myself to a constant barrage of reportage and analysis on these topics does not mean I do not care about the situations themselves. Nor does it imply I don’t have a firm position on an actuality.
I go out of my way to avoid all conversations involving politics or the Covid-19 pandemic with friends and family – not because I don’t have anything to contribute about either, but because these dialogues tend to be polarizing and result in arguments. If there is one group of people with whom I do not want to find myself at odds, it is my tribe. They are an essential source of solace for me during these very trying times, and rifts with any of them would not serve my current purpose.
By the time I actually get to see my friends and family – in person or on FaceTime as is the case these days – I have already spent the entire week talking about these very issues at work. I do not have the desire or the energy to continue on that journey. And, as an unknown author once astutely decreed, “you do not have to attend every argument to which you are invited.”
But news isn’t the only filtrate I remove from my cerebrum on a regular basis. Much like wine racking – the repetitive process of siphoning wine from one bottle to another, leaving unwanted sediment at the bottom of the old bottle until none remains – I draw off the information I want in my head and leave the rest behind. This process is particularly true when it comes to social media – and believe you me, getting to the point of being able to do that was no small feat.
I have no desire to terminate my relationship with social media altogether. It serves an important purpose in my life, of which I became exquisitely aware this past year. I value a lot of what it has to offer. But social media – and media in general – can become a cancer if we allow it. I made the decision to turn off all social media notifications on my phone. The only way I see anything on Facebook, Messenger, or Instagram is if I actively go into those apps myself. My phone is always on silent unless I am expecting an important call – and the calls I deem important these days are few and far between. This doesn’t mean the callers are unimportant, but it gives me the control over what gets through to me and when.
I have mentioned my love-hate relationship with social media in other articles, but I encountered an entirely new demon over the course of this past week. As many of you know, I have been working diligently to transition from clinical physiotherapist to full-time writer and coach. It is going well, and for that I am extremely grateful. However, despite having several university degrees, not one of them is in business. Always eager to acquire new knowledge, I have thrown myself into studying entrepreneurship and marketing. Every book I read and every course I took resoundingly agreed social media was the best – if not only – way to build a platform and reach new clients. So, being ever the good student, I did what I was told. I created an ad on Facebook.
It did not go well.
The morning after my ad went live, I woke up to find 67 new messages in my inbox. I was elated. It actually worked! At least that’s what I thought – until I open those messages. What I found were 3 actual inquiries. The rest were all inappropriate personal comments.
For those of you who have read other Wine and Yoga articles, you already know I abhor receiving unsolicited advances via my social media accounts. Until now, I have only received them in my personal account, which means I have at least some information about the person sending them and consequently can respond accordingly. Not so with a business page. I encountered a whole new level of trepidation upon receiving those messages from complete and utter strangers.
But this new business means a lot to me. I think it has immense value for the people who need it most. For that to happen, it needs to succeed. So, I toughed it out for another day and hoped frenetically that the novelty would have worn off and I would find no more such comments the following morning. I’m sure you can guess what happened.
Twice the number of inappropriate comments, triple the consternation.
So, I made the decision to delete the ad. Yes, I want to help as many people as possible, but not at the expense of my own mental health. And the Universe seems to have supported my decision, because in the interim, I have received more clients by referral and word of mouth organically than I ever would have anticipated this early in the process.
Limiting my exposure to the daily news, keeping notifications on my phone to a minimum, and interacting on social media at my discretion are all parts of the filtration system I have created for my soul. I know I feel things deeply and I wouldn’t change that about myself, even if it would make everyday life easier. But it does mean I have to protect myself from things I know to be harmful to my state of mind.
I do not believe there is anything wrong with practicing some form of separation from troubling information. It is as important as building strong personal boundaries. That news story will still be there when you are ready to absorb and process the details. Refusing to engage in a heated conversation does not mean that you are turning a blind eye to the issue. That alone should indicate to the other person that you feel strongly about it and just don’t want to deplete your energy stores at that moment. And, like me, you might initially worry you will hurt someone’s feelings if you don’t get back to them immediately, but as the saying goes – and I cannot stress this enough – you are no good to anyone else if you don’t first take care of yourself.
I strongly recommend taking the time to identify the people, topics, actions, and attitudes that push your buttons and determine a method to filter them in a way that best serves your purpose. I promise it will allow you to be a kinder, happier, and healthier human in the end.
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